Tuesday, July 26, 2016
The sermon on Hwy 75
For a time at least, the Schaaps--me mostly--toyed with the idea of keeping rabbits out back of the barn. Our kids were just kids when I saw a hand-painted sign along the highway--"Bunnies for sale"--at a farm somewhere east of Doon. I was looking for Dutch bunnies, those darling belted ones, little miniature things you couldn't have shot in your garden even if they'd just finished off the entire crop of lettuce.
That's why I stopped--to look at bunnies. I'm quite sure there were two little Schaap kids in the car, so I rolled into the yard of a farm family I didn't know at all when I saw the sign.
They weren't Dutch--the rabbits, that is. The woman who came out to talk certainly was--and of the Calvinist variety. Didn't take long and I left without buying bunnies; what they were selling were your garden-type variety, not sweethearts like the one up top, and believe me neither was she.
What I remember yet today every last time I pass that farm place is that she'd read a book of mine, my very first, in fact. She told me she'd just read it and she somehow recognized me as the author. I was thrilled.
But she didn't like the book and she made it very clear she didn't. I can't resurrect the conversation--it was a Jeremiad--but I know its genre. She was convinced that books like mine were an abomination, so convinced that her assault minced no words.
Honestly, I don't remember why she was so angry. There isn't a dime's worth of sex in that book--a collection of tales about Dutch immigrants to the rural Midwest. There was maybe a nickel's worth of foul language, but just about all of it was in the same Dutch language this farm wife, or her husband, might well have spit out loading hogs.
What I remember of that moment was shock, not only because she was so almighty unpleasant, but also because what I thought I'd done with that book was tell stories Dutch-Americans from her neigborhood might well enjoy. It was the era of Roots, and I thought every tribe and nation--mine especially--would appreciate at least something of their own Kunte Kintes.
But in her brand of Calvinist mind and soul I was dead wrong, and she let me know it.
I've never forgotten that trip to the woodshed. Every time I pass that farm I think of her righteous hectoring. I don't remember her face or her words, but I remember knowing that I had just met the kind of dour caricature Dutch Calvinist the rest of us have prove we aren't, someone so convinced of the darkness all around that he or she actually delights in misery.
That was almost forty years ago. Yesterday I had to read stories at a Bible League gathering, so I was driving north on Hwy 75 when a half-mile up the road a car turned out of her driveway--red car, sporty thing. I couldn't help chuckling that it could be that woman, forty years later, driving right out of my own bad dreams. The story came back once again, as it always does, less in pain than amusement.
She was going north. I was a car behind her.
Ten miles up the road, she turned off the highway and down the street of the church where I had to speak. Then she slowed at the parking lot, and I followed her in. Both of us looked to park in shade. I parked in the back, she didn't. I got out of my car, walked past hers and into the church. She was going to be there in church.
I didn't look at her--I wouldn't have recognized her anyway. But I was sure--still am--that she was the righteous scourge who came after me, teeth bared, almost forty years before.
I did well yesterday afternoon. That doesn't always happen anymore, and no one understands when it doesn't better than I do. But both stories I had chosen for the Bible League were the right ones, and I think I read them well too. The people--all of them women--laughed at the first one, laughed in a way Calvinists aren't supposed to; and they were moved at the second story too. After a hundred readings like the one I did yesterday afternoon, you come to know when you win and when you don't, and yesterday I won.
But when I went back to the parking lot, I couldn't help seeing that sporty red car that'd come out of driveway of a farm place that once had bunnies for sale. I couldn't help wonder what that woman thought, whether she remembered chewing me up and spitting me out right there in front of a cage of bunnies years ago, my own kids in tow. I couldn't help wonder whether it pained her to have to listen to that guy whose book she hated so long ago, whether she wondered why on earth the Bible League ever asked me to read stories anyway.
One woman walked out during the second story I read. Maybe it was she. Then again, maybe it was only someone who needed a restroom.
And maybe she didn't even remember me. The bunnies were a long, long time ago.
But I want to say that I remembered. And I wondered what she thought or said when, around those tables, those women started talking after I left, and one of them might have said, "That Schaap guy can sure read a story. Wasn't that good?" I couldn't help wonder what she'd said. I'd have paid to listen in.
If you're wondering, there is no sign any more. There are no bunnies. I'm sure her kids are grown, as are ours. We don't have rabbits either, except the ones in the garden.
Things have changed. They always do.
Then again, I'd like to think that maybe she enjoyed the whole thing. That'd be nice. I'd like that.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:10 AM